The fallout of Bill Bratton’s resignation

By Tom Allon

In July, I asked NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton a very benign question at a “Newsmakers Breakfast” my company produced: “Do you think you’ll stick around for a second term after 2017?”

“Absolutely not,” was Bratton’s surprisingly candid response.

Instantly, two reporters scurried out of the room to report this breaking news. I sat there on the podium, feeling a mix of apprehension about the city’s future without one of best police commissioners in our history and a journalistic concern that some other news outlet was going to break this story before my company could.

The next day, the daily newspapers had long stories about Bratton’s surprising announcement. The secret was out and political observers began speculating about his successor while others began contemplating Mayor de Blasio’s prospects for re-election without his well-respected police commissioner.

This turn of events got me wondering about the state of policing in our country. It has probably never been a more perilous time to be a cop in America, with all-too-frequent assassinations happening as cities become engulfed in protests over police misconduct.

There is no doubt that the tougher crime legislation passed two decades ago in Bill Clinton’s administration as well as the ascendancy of the “Broken Windows” theory of policing have made our police more aggressive, enforcing petty crimes like drug dealing, fare-beating and public urination.

At the same time, a few very disparate trends emerged that affected society profoundly—guns became more plentiful and the mentally ill homeless began to fall through the cracks and were left to fend for themselves.

Police became much more concerned about preventing crime, aggressively stopping those suspected of carrying weapons and engaging in the controversial “stop, question, and frisk” method of policing.

In large cities like New York, crime rates dropped steadily over two decades. Today, our city is the safest large city in America. Bill Bratton and his erstwhile competitor and predecessor, Ray Kelly, started this impressive decline in crime in the early 1990s and now a quarter century later, New Yorkers are the beneficiaries of a very impressive run of police commissioners.

After a huge spike in controversial “stop and frisks” in the last term of Bloomberg-Kelly, we now see crime rates holding steady while the use of “stops” has also dropped dramatically the past few years.

With Bratton’s exit in September, it is the end of an era. What lies ahead?

NYPD officers seem to be going through a period of lower morale because they think that the current mayor is not their ally and that he favors those who criticize police more than he stands up for them. There is some validity to this in the wake of two mayors—Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg—who always backed their commissioners and the force despite the heat they sometimes received. De Blasio has always been lukewarm in his support of cops and allowed his very strong ally Bratton to act as a buffer between the him and the NYPD.

Compounding this feeling is the ongoing heated contract negotiations that still have not been resolved. Mayor de Blasio has settled with almost every other union in the city, but the police believe the mayor has not offered them anything near what is fair. Last week’s revelation that many members of the mayor’s administration got generous raises only rubbed more salt in the wounds of New York’s Finest.

What to do? Well, the mayor should try to figure out a way to make a grand gesture which shows how much he appreciates the men in blue and their good work in keeping our city safe (while other large cities like Chicago descend into violent chaos). If he can’t do it through a more generous contract, then maybe he could offer merit bonuses. Or bonuses for police who live in the communities they serve.

Yes, there have been a number of disturbing events of police misconduct around the country that have been caught on tape and we must make sure these officers are properly disciplined. But we must not lose sight of the fact that every day, New York’s police keep all of us safe and they continue to do so by breaking previous crime lows.

Tom Allon, president of City & State and was a Republican and Liberal Party-backed mayoral candidate in 2013 before he left to return to the private sector. Reach him at tallon@cityandstateny.com.

More from Around New York